Geoffrey W. Sutton
According to Guinness World Records, The Bible is the best selling book- billions have been sold. But that doesn't mean people read the Bible or understand the various texts. Timothy Beal attempts to educate his readers about the Bible--what it is and how the collection of documents came into existence as one book.
Timothy Beal, is a Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University, offers an informative review of the Bible as a cultural icon. The Bible has image recognition and star quality. It remains a best seller, but Bible reading is minimal even among those described as Bible-believing. As an icon, it is part of American civil life and multiple versions reside on American tables and bookshelves.
In eight chapters, Beal reviews highlights of recent research and scholarship, which are pertinent to the origins of the biblical manuscripts and how they came to be a part of the canon that dominates bestselling versions in the United States. Beal’s analysis explains some misunderstandings about the formation of the various compilations of scripture as revealed in recent national polls. In addition to comments on text formation and selection, he suggests how doctrinal beliefs affected the inclusion or exclusion of various documents or components thereof. He also suggests how some Christian beliefs, based on limited evidence, have gained prominence, especially in the United States.
Beal’s introductory work will be of interest to readers who have not covered a similar history in their education. Academicians may find it a useful adjunct text in a first course on religious studies.
Counselors and healthcare workers may find Beal's book about the Bible to be valuable in cases where clients have questions about the application of Scripture to modern life situations.
Those interested in a careful analysis of the issues will not find this introductory volume meets their needs.
I particularly found his assessment of the Scriptures as a cultural icon of great interest. Carefully developed and marketed editions offer American Evangelicals value-laden comments that are metatext supplements designed to meet the perceived needs of select target groups (e.g., youth, singles, military personnel). As the author notes, despite having numerous Bibles in the home, reading of the actual biblical text is not as popular as having a preferred edition on-hand.
From the perspective of the Psychology of Religion, two of Beal’s points were of interest. First, his thesis regarding the effect of beliefs on the selection and inclusion or exclusion of various manuscripts is intriguing. Although the collection is fairly stable, scholars continue to make value-biased decisions about including or excluding subsections of old texts and controversial interpretations of select texts.
Second, the notion that the Bible is a cultural icon suggests a possibility for research into the interactive effects of the Bible qua holy icon on spiritual experiences independent of the textual content.
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